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How to Write a Letter to the Editor

September 8th, 2007

One of the ways in which we Libertarians can have an impact on the political process is by writing letters to the editor and getting them published in various newspapers or other media outlets that allow it. This is one method in which we can get our message out to the public, particularly the non-tech savvy part of the public that still relies on newspapers and other traditional print media as their main source of political news and information.

However, many people may not realize that writing letters to the editor requires a certain amount of skill, and not just anyone with an opinion is able to write them well enough to pass editorial muster and actually have them published. Although it is by no means a substitute for competence in basic writing skills, this article by James C. Hess provides us with a pretty good primer on how we can recover this “lost art”.


How To Write A Letter to the Editor

I recently had the most unusual conversation with the editorial editor of a community newspaper, which resulted in the following revelation: After much contemplation he is giving serious consideration to discontinuing the Letters to the Editor section of the newspaper.

The reason for this drastic decision? Not because the management of the newspaper wants to suppress the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Not at all. It is because, in the opinion of the editorial editor, people increasingly do not know how to write a Letter to the Editor. Despite the record number of Letters to the Editor this newspaper received prior to the 2004 United States Presidential Election, increasingly fewer and fewer letters are deemed fit to print, owing much to their structure and execution.

It is a pronouncement I readily believe: In the Information Age letter writing is increasingly becoming a lost Art, craft, and skill. Therefore, after much contemplation and serious consideration, I have decided to offer a primer on the matter: How To Write A Letter to the Editor.

1. Editorial guidelines: despite the advent of the Internet and the implied liberation from length limit rules and regulations it brings, despite the populist nature of the Information Age newspapers, especially community newspapers, these publications still maintain certain editorial guidelines. These include length limits, particularly when it comes to editorial material that is not actually considered news. Specifically, these apply to Letters to the Editor.

If, for example, your community newspaper specifies Letters to the Editor be no more than 250 words in length they are not to be more than 250 words in length. Period.

2. Unless a newspaper states otherwise by way of editorial guidelines always start your Letter to the Editor with “To The Editor”.

3. State the intent of your letter in the opening sentence or paragraph. For example, “I will cast my vote for the Libertarian candidate in the 2008 United States Presidential Election”.

4. In the body of your letter, present and provide explicit reason to support its intent. For example, “During the past four years George W. Bush has demonstrated his foolishness and incompetence both at home and abroad. In the wake of the events of 9/11 President Bush showed what a dangerous threat he is to individual liberty and world peace”.

5. Cite sources to support your claims, assertions, and statements. The editorial editor who is giving serious consideration to discontinuing the Letters to the Editor section of his newspaper said a major reason for his pending decision is because of the increasing number of letters that do not contain sources to support and validate charges made.

6. Watch your mouth, and be careful about your language. Journalists have a well-deserved reputation for their use of rude and foul language. This may help to explain why, increasingly, they are not respected. When writing a Letter to the Editor it is strongly recommended you forgo insults, vulgarities, profanity (assuming, of course, your community newspaper would otherwise allow such things), and rough remarks. You may not like or support someone but demonstrate why with proper language.

7. Use your life experiences, work experiences, and educational background to give credibility and respectability to your writing. A fellow I know, who barely graduated high school, has had a life-long interest in photography. It is an interest almost unmatched; he lives, breathes, sleeps, and dreams photography. Ask him a question about the subject and it is very likely you will find yourself on the receiving end of an in-depth dissertation.

It is an interest that has served him well in the Information Age, especially when it comes to image manipulation and Intellectual Property rights.

A few years ago a community newspaper where he lives found itself in the midst of a legal battle regarding copyrighted photographs. He wrote a Letter to the Editor regarding the matter, citing his background as evidence of being an expert on the subject, and ultimately influenced the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The writing of Letters to the Editor was once an art. It could be and should be, again. But this can only happen by following the proper rules and editorial guidelines, and in being responsible when it comes to the actual writing.



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